A YouTube video called “Very Sad: Cheerleader Gets a Flu Shot & Now She Can Only Walk Backwards!” sounds like it was ripped from the National Enquirer. Yet this video has been viewed over 4,486,695 times. It tells the story of 25-year-old Desiree Jennings who got a seasonal flu shot. Approximately 10 days later she developed a “one in a million” neurological disorder called dystonia, which has no known cure. The video shows Desiree having trouble speaking, walking spastically and having involuntary muscle contractions. A voiceover says, “Doctors say what happened to Desiree shouldn’t frighten people away from getting flu shots. But here’s what the woman who is on the wrong side of one in a million says…” and they cut to Desiree’s slurred speech. 

The video is only 2:18 minutes long, but it is scary. Students have told me it makes them not want to get a flu shot.   

Despite what the video claims, there is no proof that the flu shot caused her condition. In fact, several neurologists reported that her condition is not dystonia. The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation posted on their Web site: “Based on the footage that has been shared with the public, it is [our] unanimous consensus that this case does not appear to be dystonia.” 

This is a good reminder to not take everything you see or read on the Internet as “The Truth.”   

When researching the Internet for health information, look at research based Web sites managed by the government or a legitimate institution. Bring questions and concerns to your primary care provider. Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of cyberchondria — using Internet “health” sites to fuel health anxiety. 

The flu vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of people over the years and has a very good safety track record. The H1N1 vaccine has been shown to have a similar safety profile as the seasonal flu vaccine. Check www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov and Student Health’s homepage (studenthealth.sa.ucsb.edu) for more information on the safety of flu vaccines.

I would like to thank Tamzen Hull, a sexual health educator at Student Health, for answering the following health question: When should I get tested for HIV, and what are my options? 

If there is a possibility that you have been exposed to HIV, usually through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex, or injection drug use, then a test is always the best option. HIV antibody tests are the most appropriate tests for routine HIV testing. Either a blood sample (taken from the arm) or an oral fluid sample will be taken. It can take up to three months from the time of infection for these antibodies to appear. So, for an accurate HIV test, a person should wait three months from the time of suspected infection. Sometimes it is recommended to test again at six months to allow more time for antibodies to develop. Although antibodies may take a while to appear, a person can transmit the virus to others as soon as they become infected.

At Student Health, HIV testing is administered as a blood test and results are available in roughly one week. All results are kept confidential — they become part of your medical record and will be kept in a sealed portion of your file.

An alternative to having blood drawn is to get tested with a mouth swab. The Pacific Pride Foundation is a local nonprofit that offers mouth swab tests that are also anonymous. Results from these tests are usually available within 20 minutes.

Today, a free and anonymous testing event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Student Resource Building. Only 175 tests are available, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to know your status.